It was only days after the slaughter in an El Paso Walmart. In the scheme of constitutional rights, it can be argued all day and all night that this undeniable fact is irrelevant, and it is. Yet, getting along in society includes some recognition of not being the worst person you can be even though you have a right to do so.
Dmitriy Andreychenko is an asshole. To call him a jerk is inadequate. What he did went far beyond being a jerk, reflecting such a deep lack of judgment that you have to wonder how he survived long enough to walk into a Walmart in Springfield, Missouri.
Prosecutors on Friday filed a terrorist threat charge against a 20-year-old man who said he walked into a Missouri store wearing body armor and carrying a loaded rifle and handgun to test whether Walmart would honor his constitutional right to bear arms.
Second Amendment advocates will swiftly point out that he had a right to do this, a right protected by the Constitution. He did. They will claim that there is no more important way to test that right than at its edge, a Walmart, body armor and an open carry rifle and pistol, pushing the limits of people’s raw fear by recreating a scenario that, only days before cost 22 people their lives to a man bent on killing “invading” Latinos. Perhaps, if one’s twisted sense of priorities is to care so much about testing one’s rights and so little about the clear and obvious reaction of well-grounded fear it will cause.
And the same advocates will argue, correctly, that Missouri failed the test.
No shots were fired and Andreychenko was arrested after he was stopped by an armed off-duty firefighter at the store.
“Missouri protects the right of people to open carry a firearm, but that does not allow an individual to act in a reckless and criminal manner endangering other citizens,” Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Patterson said in a statement announcing the charge. Patterson compared the man’s actions to “falsely shouting fire in a theater causing a panic.”
For all the bad judgment demonstrated by his actions, Andreychenko did nothing more than was his right. It’s entirely fair to think him an asshole for what he did, but that’s not a crime. If it were, we would all be locked up. The county prosecutor’s pathetic attempt to characterize not merely lawful, but constitutionally protected, conduct as a crime is no more tasty a word salad than the most ardent advocate of intersectionality. If it’s lawful conduct, it’s not “a reckless and criminal manner endangering other citizens” because he says so.
And, as if to conclusively prove the emptiness of his charge, he invoked the “falsely shouting fire in a theater causing a panic.” While its analogy legally is nonsensical, there is a comparison to be made about the underlying concern: panic.
It’s unlikely that Andreychenko intended to cause panic, but could he be so blind as not realize that would happen? Did he care so little for anyone else that he was willing, if not happy, to be the cause of panic for his own narcissistic purposes? Apparently so. What kind of person does such a thing? Andreychenko. An asshole.
It can be argued that the panic was irrational, that the probability of a shooter walking into the Springfield Walmart days after the El Paso slaughter was negligible, as people overestimate the potential of an extremely unlikely event based on it being horrific and spotlighted, the obvious response is that there is no rational reason to walk into a Walmart dressed in body armor with a rifle slung over one’s back either. Andreychenko was being deliberately and needlessly provocative, except to the extent one sees his provocation as being the point.
And yet, no matter how provocative he was, how little he cared about the panic he would cause others, that doesn’t make him a terrorist or give rise to a criminal charge. You might think it should, but it can’t. And that’s the dilemma.
It’s hardly irrational for the people in the Springfield Walmart to fear a copycat mass murder was about to happen, and they were in the line of fire. Nobody wants to die like that. Nobody is going to parse out the relative constitutional concerns when being within range of a man wearing body armor and open carrying a rifle and handgun under those circumstances. If anything, it’s amazing that the armed off-duty firefighter who stopped Andreychenko didn’t end up causing a shoot out.
But the right to open carry in Missouri is a right. And if it’s a right, and the right belongs to Andreychenko, then it’s not up to anyone else to deny it to Andreychenko. It doesn’t matter how bad his judgment was in exercising the right, how little concern he held for anyone else in that Walmart who would understandably panic as a result of his exercise of his right. Bad judgment does not impair a right.
Police have long made this point, that while they may be aware of the right to keep and bear arms, to carry guns whether open or concealed, they are left in the position of being unable to distinguish the killer from the person merely exercising their constitutional right. How are they to know whether this is someone about the slaughter 22 Latinos or just a gun guy? Police are mostly antagonistic toward this right, not because they too aren’t gun fans, but because it presents a facial risk to them and others without distinguishing rules.
Gun advocates offer an unsatisfying answer: they have a right to carry, and the presumption upon seeing a person openly carrying a weapon is that it’s nothing more than the exercise of a constitutional right. The charges against Andreychenko should be dismissed because he did nothing more than exercise his constitutional right, and it’s not yet a crime in America to be an asshole.
But make no mistake, Andreychenko was an asshole to do what he did, and the conflict between his test and people’s understandable panic is not so easily talked away, just as his conduct doesn’t cease to be a right by the county prosecutor calling it “reckless and criminal.”